Linking Communications & Development – One Professional’s Story

Just spoke with Dr. Salmane El Allami, a professor at Mohammed V University who had attended a UN sponsored conference on how IT-facilitated development can help alleviate poverty. He was representing the Rhamna Foundation for Sustainable Development, which works to advance the lives of people living in the Rhamna region north of Marrakech. We started out talking about his background, and what emerged is a lesson in how even the smallest interactions can have great consequences.

He first came to the US in 1987 on a United States Information Service exchange program marking the 200th anniversary of the US-Morocco Friendship Treaty, our longest continuous treaty that is still in force. He was a university student who fell in love with English in high school and, unable to major in journalism or media at his university, took his degree in English literature. He stayed for six weeks, and it changed his life. Later, when pursuing his doctorate at the Sorbonne, he was struck by the lack of an area study of US-Arab relations. He received permission to do self-directed research on the topic of Arab Americans in the US, starting his field work in 1991. While in the DC metro area, he interviewed dozens of Arab Americans to better understand their integration into US society, and the role of religion in that transition. As importantly, he acquired knowledge in media and social-research techniques that became key to his career.

Much of our conversation focused on his study of the perceptions of Morocco’s National Human Development Initiative (INDH) and a follow up evaluation of INDH projects. INDH is a grassroots campaign launched by King Mohammed VI to build sustainable alternatives to the grinding poverty and lack of resources that afflict the hundreds of communities targeted by the program. It brings together stakeholders, government officials, the private sector, and NGOs to ascertain the challenges and the resources available, and then to bring together partners to develop solutions. This is what he has been doing both through his organization called Anfasse and also as a board member of the Rhamna Foundation.

And he has not left his love of media behind. When he moved to Mohammed V University, he started the Higher Institute of Information and Communication in Rabat to train young Moroccans in media. This year, he will launch a private effort called the All Media Development Training Center – a three-year program for media professionals to advance their craft and acquire skills in political communications, strategic communications, and similar specializations. He has also made a number of documentary films on subjects such as the crisis in Arab Higher Education, research in the Arab World, and the challenges of teaching and preserving Arabic. In addition, next month, he is taking his work on the road, bringing movies to rural areas where children have not been exposed to films, teaching them the essential skills of movie-making.

He sees all of this as inter-related – focusing on capacity-building for Moroccans to take charge of their lives and resources. He believes that this is the genius of INDH, “the most important development project in Morocco.” In the past, development programs lacked coherence, he says, with very little coordination, sporadic efforts, and no central strategy. Today’s INDH is based on firm principles of inclusion, sustainability, and a philosophy of development that puts people at the center of the projects. “We want them to learn how to do things on their own…it’s a paradigm shift that builds their capacity to positively affect their lives.” So there is a balance between government interventions and building up small businesses and other forms of income generation. For example, more than one million women have been affected by INDH since 2005.

Rhamna Foundation is a local partner for INDH and is focused on partners and stakeholders working together. Fortunately, Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP), the world’s largest exporter of phosphates, has a major facility in the region. It is partnering with Rhamna to build the first green city in Morocco as well as participating in projects such as improving local schools and launching the Mohammed VI Polytechnic Institute to enhance marketable skills of local graduates.

Dr. El Allami is quite enthusiastic about the future. He believes that this innovative strategy of involving stakeholders in a detailed analysis and conceptualization of the region’s needs, encompassing all sectors of economic and human development, is the key to success. “By matching projects to the specific needs of the area and bringing in other parties from the government and private sector, we are giving people the tools they need to manage their futures.” And it started in part with a six-week visit to the US by someone who fell in love with English in high school.